By  on May 25, 2006

NEW YORK — When Scott Kuhlman opened one of his namesake stores at 30 Rockefeller Plaza here last year, he didn't have the advertising budget of neighbors such as J. Crew, Banana Republic and Façonnable.

Instead of buying ads or renting bus shelter panels, he used a guerrilla marketing technique to raise awareness for the store and its Anglo-Italian-style careerwear. Kuhlman had a box of 200 men's and women's shirts hand-delivered to the offices of a nearby investment bank.

"It's great for getting people introduced to the brand," said the founder and chairman of Kuhlman Co., Minneapolis. "Stores near an office drop location report incremental sales of over 75 percent. It's retail 101. It's getting people into the stores. Once they're in the store, we can do our job."

In just four years, the company has opened 53 stores in 19 states and the District of Columbia. With rapid growth, there have been inevitable growing pains. In December, Kuhlman realized he needed help running the company. He called Luis Padilla, former chief merchant at Sears and executive vice president of Target's former Marshall Field's division. "‘I need to replace myself as ceo,'" Kuhlman recalled telling him.

Padilla, who had left Sears after 14 months, liked Kuhlman's concept: European-style suits and separates sold in a boutique setting.

"I was looking for something small, where I could add some value and help it grow," Padilla said. "They did a good job of analyzing the niche in the marketplace. For years, department stores have been trying to do a neoclassical private label brand at an attainable price point, but they haven't been able to. The only people doing it well are the classic Italian designer brands, and they're too expensive for most people."

Kuhlman's prices range from $55 for a shirt with French cuffs to $345 for a trenchcoat. A jacket with pick-stitch detail is $295, matching pants are $125. The company, which did $16 million in sales in 2005, expects to double its volume for 2006.

In addition to apparel for men and women, Kuhlman sells shoes, handbags, belts and scarves. Scott Kuhlman called home products a natural extension of the brand and said they will be featured on the company's relaunched Web site in June. "Eventually, we will license fragrance and eyewear," he said. "We don't want to give up control over anything yet. We enjoy being in control of our sourcing. We're control freaks about product."

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